Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Saturday that the United States-led West wants to destroy Russia, remove it from the world map, and that the Russians had no choice other than invading Ukraine.
Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, Lavrov repeated the Russian grievances with Ukraine and the West and said that the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine was a justified act.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine —dubbed as the 'special military operation— on February 2024. The West has since said that the initial objective was to swiftly tear through the country, capture the capital Kyiv, and overthrow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's government. When all of these objectives failed and Russians forces were stuck in Northern Ukraine and around Kyiv, the Russian forces were redeployed to the country's east with the objective being changed to the 'liberation' of Easteran Ukraine's Donbas region.
The scaled-down objective of 'liberating' Eastern Ukraine has also not worked out well for Russia, particularly after the stunning Ukrainian victories in a counter-offensive this month that forced Russian forces to flee from around a dozen towns in Eastern Ukraine.
What did Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov say?
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeated a series of grievances about Ukraine and the West and said Moscow had "no choice" but to take military action.
Lavrov said it's the United States and its Western allies that are undermining the international system that the UN represents.
Invoking history ranging from the US-led War in Iraq to the 20th-century Cold War to a 19th-century US policy that essentially proclaimed American influence over the Western hemisphere, Lavrov portrayed the US as a bully that tries to afford itself "the sacred right to act with impunity wherever and wherever they want" and can't accept a world where others also advance their national interests.
"The United States and allies want to stop the march of history," said Lavrov.
The United States and Ukraine didn't retort at the assembly on Saturday but can still offer formal responses later in the meeting. Both US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy have already given their own speeches describing Russia as a dangerous aggressor that must be stopped.
Lavrov accused the West of aiming to "destroy and fracture Russia" in order to "remove from the global map a geopolitical entity that has become all too independent".
Ukraine War has dominated UNGA session
The Ukraine war has largely dominated the discussion at UN General Assembly, and many countries have laid into Russia for its Feb. 24 invasion — denouncing its nuclear threats, alleging it has committed atrocities and war crimes, and lambasting its decision to mobilise call up some of its reserves even as the assembly met.
"Neither partial mobilisation, nuclear saber-rattling, nor any other escalation will deter us from supporting Ukraine," said Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde on Saturday.
Russia does have some friends in the sprawling chamber, and one —Belarus— offered a full-throated defense Saturday of its big neighbor. Echoing Russia's talking points, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said "it was precisely the West that made this conflict inevitable" in Ukraine.
The speeches came amid voting in Russian-occupied parts of Eastern and Southern Ukraine on whether to join Russia. Moscow characterises the referendums as self-determination, but Kyiv and its Western allies view them as Kremlin-orchestrated shams. Outcomes are widely believed to be in Russia's favour as voting is either believed to be rigged or forced under the shadow of theats to voters under military occupation.
Some observers think the expected outcome could serve as a pretext for Russian President Vladimir Putin eventually to escalate the war further.
"We can expect President Putin will claim any Ukrainian effort to liberate this land as an attack on so-called Russian territory," said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the UN Security Council on Thursday.
Lavrov dismissed the complaints as the West "throwing a fit" about people making a choice on where they feel they belong.
Russian justifications for the Ukraine War
Russia has offered a number of explanations for what it calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine. Lavrov repeated the following:
Risks to Russia from what it considers a hostile government in Kyiv
- A NATO alliance that has expanded eastward over the years
- Relieving Russians living in Ukraine —especially its eastern region of the Donbas— of what Moscow views as the Ukrainian government's oppression.
"The incapacity of Western countries to negotiate and the continued war by the Kyiv regime against their own people left us with no choice" but to recognise the two regions that make up the Donbas as independent and then to send troops in, said Lavrov, adding that the aim was "to remove the threats against our security, which NATO has been consistently creating in Ukraine".
Ukraine warns of fresh Russian offensive
Despite the Ukrainian counter-offensive in the East in which Ukrainian forces liberated several towns from occupying Russian forces, forcing them to flee, Zelenskyy struck a cautious note in his UN address. He warned Russia might be preparing for a fresh offensive.
Putin recently ordered a mobilisation of 3,00,000 reservist soldiers to improve the Russian war efforts. Russia has suffered from huge losses on the frontlines and its soldiers are reported to be suffering from low morale, poor training, and poor equipment. There is also believed to be a shortfall of soldiers, which the mobilisation is expected to bridge.
Zelenskyy earlier this week warned that he believes Moscow wants to spend the winter getting ready for a new offensive, or at least preparing fortifications while mobilising more troops. Regardless, he declared that his forces will ultimately oust Russian troops from all of Ukraine.
"We can do it with the force of arms. But we need time," said Zelenskyy, the only leader who was allowed to address the assembly by video this year.
Ukraine war has worsened world's food crisis
The Russian invasion of Ukraine came at a time when the world had just started to recover from two years of Covid-19 pandemic that disrupted every aspect of the world from education to industrial supply lines and agriculture.
Ukraine and Russia are among the largest foodgrain producers of the world. Together with Belarus, the two countries are also key global suppliers of fertilisers. The war in Ukraine and the blockade at its ports and disruption of farming meant that countries depending on food imports from these countries were plunged to grave food insecurity.
A deal recently brokered by the UN and Turkey has helped get Ukrainian grain moving, but fertilizer shipments have proved more difficult.
At a news conference after his speech, Lavrov said he discussed problems with the deal at a meeting this week with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Although international sanctions against Russia did not target food and fertiliser exports, shipping and insurance companies and banks have been loath to deal with Moscow — and the Kremlin has frequently pointed to that in alleging that Western sanctions have exacerbated the crisis. Lavrov told reporters on Saturday that Russia wants fertiliser stuck in European ports to be given to needy countries quickly.
At the Security Council on Thursday, Ukraine and Russia faced off, in a rare moment when Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, were in the same room — though they kept their distance.
The General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in March to deplore Russia's aggression against Ukraine, call for immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces, and urge protection for millions of civilians. The next month, members agreed by a smaller margin to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.
(With AP inputs)